Castle Roland

On The Web

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 17

Posted: N/A

Ready To Go Home

by Jack Scribe

Saturday late afternoon - Palm Springs

No matter how he cut it, Henry knew he had fallen into a sweet deal: escaping the police net, and acquiring an intriguing, hot boyfriend with the offering of financial least, in the short term. 'I can make this work with no sweat,' he thought as he shaved, 'it'll be a win-win situation for both of us.' He studied his smooth face; it was back to a clean-shaven look for the first time since he had suddenly departed from L.A. five days earlier.

The day had been met with a series of surprises...beginning with the startling proposal over breakfast from Ral Caldern, to establish a relationship and live with him in Bogot. When Ral left to play the back nine with his brother, Henry - 'Rory' was now a name banished from his mind - spent a couple of hours around the pool reading a trashy Jackie Collins novel that he had found in the den. The story was another variation of the rich Beverly Hills trophy wife getting fucked by the pool boy...and the gardener...and the neighbor's son. On one occasion, the pool and the grounds were left unattended so that she could entertain both men at the same time, while the teen neighbor secretly watched the action. 'Part of my new job is to make sure Ral never needs any J.O. material - books or video,' Henry concluded as he tossed the paperback aside.

Henry found the laundry and washed the clothes he had worn the previous evening. After eating some lunchmeat that masqueraded as food, he decided to inaugurate his new South American lifestyle by taking a siesta in Ral's bed. The brothers wouldn't be back for a while and, except for a man at the gate, the gofer bodyguards were absent. 'Probably picking up some clothes for me - hopefully Saks...not TJ Maxx.' Henry laughed as he pulled off the borrowed Speedo, crawled into the large king-sized bed and sprawled on his back. "Dude, you lookin' at me?" he said to his lanky image in the mirror on the ceiling.

His mood turned serious as he examined his body in the reflection. "Hi, Henry. Rory's gone." Thinking of Rory brought back memories of Harvey Fine. 'That miserable fuck,' he thought as he glanced down at his firm torso, 'if Harvey had his way, I'd be staring at a body covered with ink and punctured by piercings. But that's all over now.' He had concluded over the past couple of days that if he had a chance to replay the drama of the previous week with Harvey and that doofus Thad, he wouldn't have done anything so drastic. 'I probably watched too much TV and believed all that shit you see. How the hell did I think I could pull off this crazy-ass plan? But that's behind me now...a turd I've flushed...and it ain't coming back up.'

He re-focused on the mirror and was pleased that a shave had helped restore his image...just enough to recognize himself. The improvised blondness on his head could grow out slowly but Henry decided he'd dye his hair back to its original color once he was settled in his new home...with his partner...and touch it up as required. The short haircut - more of a civilian trim than a high and tight - harked back to his Corps days and he liked the spiffy clean appearance. "Semper Fi...Hooah," he barked. The darker hair would also take the edge off of looking too gringo when he got settled. 'And I think I'll wear some sort of glasses with a tortoise-shell frame to create a more serious image. Shake the Rory look for good.'

And what to make of the unexpected - becoming a life partner with someone almost a complete stranger. Except for being totally captivated by Ral's Latin charm and familiarized with the anatomical dimensions of certain body parts, Henry was dealing with a blank page. 'Wow, just like that,' he mused, 'and I'm a married man. One week I'm making love to a camera and the next, I'm about to become a friggin' house frau.' He was silently amused at the mental image of him shuffling around a house, dusting furniture while watching Oprah.

As soon as possible, he wanted to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Ral and find out what the Colombian's actual expectations were. 'What sort of freedom will I have once we get settled? How will I be introduced? Will I be able to establish friendships with people I meet?' Henry realized that the safety and comfort factor of being the other half to Ral cut both ways. 'My new mate would cut off my balls in a fast Medellin minute if he ever thought I was cheating on him. But that's not going to happen - cheating, that is. Our sex is good and the man is my meal ticket.' How their relationship would play out was open to interpretation but, until they had their talk, Henry would hunt for any hints or pick up nuances that would help him make this arrangement work. "This arrangement is my job," he said to the mirror, with his finger pointing upward, "and I'm not going to blow it."

Henry assumed that the Calderns' business dealings wouldn't be discussed around him and that was 'mightee fine' by him. The less he knew about Ral in that context the better. After he got settled, Henry wanted to attend school and learn Spanish to become conversant in social situations. Except for studying high school Spanish - and some choice swear words learned from other grunts in the Corps - he had not tried to broaden his linguistic skills. 'That's kinda stupid for anyone living in Southern California,' he thought, 'but now that I'll be in Colombia, there's no choice in the matter.' He also mulled over the idea of attending one of the local colleges once he had a working grasp of Spanish. He'd always been good with numbers and considered what Ral's reaction would be if he said he wanted to study accounting. Developing tools for a useful occupation would give Henry certain independence...if having certain personal freedoms were to be part of the deal. 'Lots of things to discuss,' he decided as he closed his eyes and drifted off into a restless sleep.

Harvey Fine intermittently derailed dreams of his second chance in Bogot. His former boss and porn mentor took on different images as the older man's sneering face became attached to heads of other characters and animals who floated through the fiery, foggy, cavernous recesses. The brilliant flashes of red and orange coincided with audible booms and crashes...and echoing, cackling laughter. Harvey would occasionally mouth words but nothing could be heard above the din of noise.

"Hey, amigo...Henry." A voice finally broke through the chaos and the visual drama abruptly faded to a mist of crimson.

"Wha...what?" Henry mumbled as his colored dream screen pixilated and jumped to black. He opened his eyes, blinked a few times and asked "Where...?"

"Looks like you were having some bad dreams," the man said softly, "and I hope they weren't about us."

"Hi...partner," Henry replied with a smile and turned in the direction of the voice...Ral's. "Just some goofy memories Marine Corps days. You're all finished with golf?" He studied the man standing before him and saw someone who wore the trappings of success without apologies - someone who was used to getting his way. Moreover, the radiant glistening of his dark eyes communicated the look of a person who cared for Henry.

"Finished some time ago. It's almost five...Ricky and I have been back for a couple of hours."

"Man," Henry replied as he sat up, "I didn't realize I'd been asleep that long. I'd better shag ass so I don't delay our departure."

"Relax, everything's been done. We only have to pack, get dressed and have a light bite to eat. Maybe I should suggest that you and I have a little fun before we start packing." Ral winked, sat down on the edge of the bed, toed off his shoes and rested his hand on Henry's thigh.

"I'll always ready for some lovin', but do we have time? I've got to get checked out of the motel and turn in my car." Henry put his hand on top of Ral's hand and squeezed.

"Don't worry, my sleeping prince, the boys have been busy while you were taking a siesta. I didn't want to disturb you when we returned. So, I found your door key card and car keys. They did everything as planned and the mysterious Henry Cummings has officially left Palm Springs. Your clothes and toiletries are in the corner...along with some new things."

"And there were no problems?" Henry hadn't thought there would be any difficulties but this had been the final element of risk.

"Everything was handled with cash, as we discussed, and Alamo even wants you to complete a customer satisfaction form and earn some bonus points." Ral laughed and pulled off his knit golf shirt. "So, Seor Enrique - Mr. Henry - what shall your new name be?" He removed his golf shorts and briefs in one fluid motion, kicked them aside and lay next to Henry. "Mmmm, what a nice way to relax after golf," he said as he turned to tongue Henry's ear.

"That tickles," Henry snickered, "but I like it." He also liked that Ral had not so innocently slid his hand onto Henry's warm crotch area and was lightly stimulating the tip of Henry's cock. "Um, I like Henry but my real last name - Wiedermeier - is too German. Especially in your country."

"I agree. Sounds very Aryan...although the Nazis did tend to congregate in Argentina and Chile." Ral now grabbed Henry's thickening and lengthening shaft and started stroking. "Maybe you could consider a play on words. We met in Palm Springs. How about Henry Palma?" he asked as his thumb played with the dribbles of pre-cum.

"Palma...I like it. Kind of vague and with a special meaning for us." Henry leaned over, quickly kissed Ral and added, "Speaking of which, my Palma tree is going to explode if you keep playing with it like that. Let's get comfortable and slow down a little." He shifted his body around until they were lined up - mouth to crotch - and licked Ral's erection.

"Henry Palma it is. I'll have papers and official documentation for you about a week after we get back. But enough about work for now. Let's enjoy each other." Ral let out a guttural growl and licked Henry's scrotum.

"Enjoy, we will." Henry sighed and wrapped his lips around the Colombian's dark-skinned dick. 'Time to earn my keep,' he thought as he felt Ral's glans hit his throat. As he methodically started a bobbing up and down action, the idea of buying a little gift for Ral came to mind. Something that would demonstrate Henry's seriousness in wanting to launch this relationship, properly. When his nose became buried in Ral's wiry matted pubes, Henry knew exactly what he should buy before he jetted off to a fresh start.

It was one of those miracles of a Southern California freeway - not encountering a single accident or slowing of traffic on the busy I-10. Oleg and Giorgio sped to Palm Springs while the late Saturday afternoon sun angled further to the West behind them. The conversation, as they navigated through the tricky maze of downtown interchanges of merging freeways, was light and primarily a re-cap of the afternoon cookout. The FM radio was tuned to KJAZZ and Robert Cray was singing I'm Just Lucky That Way.

Friends and relations Knockin' on my door Not to mentions folks I've never seen before

Got my phone number changed Had it taken Out of the book Still my phone keeps ringin' Off the hook

My luck's so good It's a crying shame I have to move up the country I have to change my name

It happens everyday I win when I play

I'm just lucky that way

"I recognized several of the guys," Oleg said. "Neil Patrick Harris and his partner are cuties. Is it correct to assume that the actors are clients of your firm?"

"Some are. Brad represents Luke - the guy on Brothers and Sisters - as well as Neil. But T.R. is part of Jim Weiss's star roster at CAM...along with Wentworth."

"I know Luke, Neil and T.R. are out...but Mr. Miller?" Oleg asked with a raised eyebrow. There had been talk about Wentworth Miller being one of the boys - but only the usual nibbles from the rumor mill.

"Naw. Miller is a hopeless hetero but very with it and gay-friendly - part of the new Hollywood generation who's secure enough to slough off homophobic ass biting and stand with friends. Same with James Franco. This cookout was a great way for these young actors to relax without fear of their pictures appearing on the Internet. And even though Brad Williams has retired, he's still one of the biggest celebrities in this town. So, a little face time with our famous partner is always good for an actor's rep."

"And I assume that it's no fluke that Brad's name is part of your firm's name." The name had been changed to Korshak, Hoberman and Williams when Brad - still Brent to his oldest friends - became a partner.

"Yeah, two dead Jews and a homo," Giorgio said as he snickered, "How's that for a bread making marquee?"

"In this town, very insightful and profitable. Speaking of faces, there were several guys who I hadn't seen before. And they seemed to gravitate towards Dave."

"Let me give you a rundown." Giorgio turned down the radio's volume and discussed the young men from the law firm. He explained that Dave had taken the responsibility of mentoring single lawyers who were just starting out and played the combined role of big brother and professional counselor. Today's group of associates was a mixture of gay and straight men, all very accepting about another person's status: part of the rigorous recruitment and hiring process was to weed out those who indicated a narrow, bigoted attitude. Within the law schools that were close to the firm, and in the L.A. legal community, it was an unwritten code that homophobes need not apply.

Oleg casually mentioned that he had been given an early invitation to Dave and Mike's holiday party in December and Giorgio initially seemed very pleased. But there was a sudden shift from chatty conversation to quietness and Oleg wondered if he had been wrong to mention Dave's comment. 'Oh-oh,' he thought, 'what happened here?' He turned to Giorgio and said, "A penny for your thoughts? Or has that been devalued, too?"

"Maybe two thoughts for a penny, to match the economy," Giorgio replied. "I...was just thinking about the Christmas party. I had a helluva good time with everybody last year except for the person I brought. The A-hole met someone else that night and my move for romance was over."

"Romance?" Oleg was intrigued that Giorgio would be bringing up some past history.

"Let's just say that I thought of it as going to be something more than just a guy for a movie date. But he didn't share those feelings and less name on my address list. The only thing to come out of it was I'm better friends with the law partner whose boyfriend was plucked..."

"And fucked," Oleg replied as he shook his head. "Sorry, I couldn't resist."

"Ha, I like that." Giorgio chuckled and continued, "Actually, it was my ex-friend who got fucked. He was up to his eyeballs in that subprime mortgage mess, and the last I heard he was sweating bullets over an indictment."

"Ah, a felon du jour. He could've used your legal expertise."

"Too late for that," Giorgio replied with a shrug, "His balls are being squeezed by a grand jury...for openers."

"Very tightly, I would imagine. All the politicians are anxious to find piatas for public display on this hot potato." Oleg playfully touched the back of Giorgio's head and added, "He'll probably end up being someone's bitch in the pen."

"End up? Even as a pun, I feel the pain just thinking about that. He's a power bottom but I don't think he'd want that kind of action."

"Choice isn't part of the process in prison. But I digress..."

Giorgio shook his head and said, "Point is, my track record in the boyfriend department hasn't been that successful recently. You think things are going to be easier when you get older. You know, security...a relationship."

"I think we're both batting a .667 average. It's the relationship angle that gets tricky." Oleg replied as he thought about his crash and burn experience a couple of years ago with a six-month romance - his half-hearted attempt to rebound after he and his partner broke up.

"Tricky is a good term. But I'd like to change that."

"As long as there's a possibility of me being part of the equation, I'd say - in the spirit of our most recent presidential campaign - change is good." Oleg decided not to be coy and roll the dice. 'Will this mare drink the water?' he wondered.

"I like the sound of that. Barack's theme was 'change we can believe in'. My theme is...'change we can do together'." Giorgio placed his right hand on Oleg's thigh and said, "We, being you and me. Is that a viable concept or am I coming on too strong?"

"Coming on just fine and I think the idea is viable as hell. Barry also had another theme, yes we can." Oleg took Giorgio's hand, brought it to his lips and kissed it. "Without getting all mushy on the 10, this has been on my mind, too. I don't think either of us is impulsive, but I'd like to explore us being an us." Oleg smiled and let out a sigh. 'We're both on the same frequency,' he decided with satisfaction, 'and I'm going to do some fine tuning.'

"Exactly. Do you have some ideas about this exploration? I mean, other than screwing each other's brains out on a frequent basis."

"And coming up for air once in a while?" Oleg replied as he moved his body so he could watch Giorgio. "For openers, I propose that we continue to spend quality time together - when we can - and agree that other guys are off limits."

"Works for me. I haven't been dating that much anyway. And stealing off for weekends to places like the INNdulge was just an excuse to get a little variety in my life...besides jerking off to videos."

"Sean's and Corbin's boys are my best friends," Oleg said with a laugh.

Giorgio joined in the laughter and said, "Yeah, and they're such good friends...I don't even know their real names."

"Don't worry, the guys on the videos may be hot, but they're too young and way too expensive in person." Oleg paused for a minute as the famous Rory flashed through his mind. He lowered his voice and said, "If our friendship grows in the right direction, I don't think we're going to need any diversion."

"Let's talk about growing our friendship." Giorgio paused as if to consider his words. "As far as I'm concerned, Oleg, you're a man who I could see myself with...for a long time. But I know we're both at that period in our lives when our careers are very demanding. Success in moving our relationship to something more permanent will be dependent on understanding that we both have responsibilities that will cut in on our personal time."

"Crazy responsibilities in my case. And while you might have a pissed off ex-husband to deal with, I occasionally cross paths with a very dangerous element." Oleg put his hand on Giorgio's shoulder and lightly kneaded it.

"You hinted about your activities this past weekend. If what I read in the Times is true, dangerous is an understatement." Giorgio turned to Oleg momentarily and nodded.

"The operative word is occasionally," Oleg said. "Most of my time is spent buried behind a computer and in meetings." He decided that a little white lie was necessary in the spirit of not scaring the guy away. "Maybe our first agreement is that we don't talk about the specifics of our work, in that we both deal with sensitive, confidential matters."

"That's an easy matter for me. The goofy things I have to deal with on a daily basis I always leave at the office...unless there's an evening meeting. If that's the case...ka-ching, five big ones an hour."

"Me, too...except my billable hours aren't so lofty," Oleg replied with a grin. "The other x-factor is that my job sometimes requires odd hours and I have to take last-minute trips. So, barring these problems, you think we could give this arrangement a go? I know I could." He looked at Giorgio and tried to read any emotions. 'This guy must be a good poker player,' he thought, 'but I think there's a little smile that's trying to break loose.'

"If this were a trial, what you've just delivered would be considered a helluva closer - an effective closing argument. I'm sold all the way." Giorgio paused for a moment before he added, "It's not like we're two kids sniffing around puppy love."

"Although I don't mind the sniffing part," Oleg said, "which I plan on doing plenty of later tonight."

"We'll both have a chance to claim our a couple of hours." Giorgio wiggled his eyebrows and took Oleg's hand. "Seriously, this is an ideal time for two guys in early middle age..."

"Emphasizing the word, early..."

"To settle down...if it's doable. We've got to understand that, while we're not exactly old dogs, flexibility in adjusting to each other's quirks will take work. I'm certainly ready to bend when required...and I don't mean over a chair."

"You gave me a perfect rim shot opportunity, but I'll be serious for a moment," Oleg said. "Talking things out - always - is all I ask. Relationships are in jeopardy when one person thinks they can change the other. If I do something that really pisses you off, please let me know. Vice versa. It's only May so we've got all summer to become comfortable - intimately comfortable, warts and all - with each other. We'll still maintain separate residences so we won't be glued at the hip. I think we're both A-types who need a certain amount of private, solitary time."

"Then let's make that our goal. If we seem to have our shit together in September, maybe we could take a little trip to Hawaii and do a final sorting of things out."

"A week in Aloha land would be fun," Oleg replied. 'By September, we'll know if this is the real thing or just a fluke between two horny, middle-aged guys,' he thought, 'and I think this has the potential of being real as hell.'

Both smiled and settled back as the Escape sped past the 15 intersection - the turnoff to Las Vegas - and continued towards the desert. Oleg turned up the music, put his hand on Giorgio's thigh near his groin and closed his eyes. John Meyer was singing, Say What You Need to Say.

Have no fear for givin' in. Have no fear for giving over. You better know that in the end It's better to say too much, than never to say what you need to say again.

Even if your hands are shaking, And your faith is broken. Even as the eyes are closin', Do it with a heart wide open.

Say what you need to say...

By 6:00 p.m., Henry and Ral had managed to cock-tickle the other's prostate and more than satisfy each other's carnal appetite. Next, they continued their fleshly desire in the large shower. While six different showerheads shot warm water out from different angles over their two bodies, Ral proved his oral talent by ably pleasuring his partner. Henry had not participated in such a physically charged, lustful late afternoon - without the reward being hard cash - for a long time. He enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about this man.

"What should I wear for the flight?" Henry asked as he finished drying himself.

"First, we should inspect what was purchased for you. Maybe you'll find something you can wear." Ral smiled, tossed the two towels aside and tugged at Henry's flaccid penis. "I'm told there is an array of clothing to get your wardrobe started."

"I washed my jeans, tee and briefs earlier today, so why don't I wear those on the flight? New stuff can get kinda itchy."

"Indulge me if you would," Ral said as they walked back to the bedroom. "The jeans I approve - but maybe a tank top would be more comfortable...and it'll give me a chance to look at your sexy body until we get home." He opened a drawer of the antique chest and pulled out a folded clump of black material. "This is one of my tops - a well-worn Armani - that will look very nice on you." He handed it to Henry and smiled.

Henry put on the tank top and modeled it for Ral. The garment was ribbed and tight enough to show off his taut abs. He laughed and wiggled his ass just enough for his cock to slap from side to side.

"Fantstico," Ral said as he applauded. "To finish the look, I have other jeans that would be better suited for the Armani." He opened another drawer and retrieved a pair of 501's.

The denim was worn in the crotch and Henry noticed that the size on the Levi's tag was his - 32W-34L. 'Holy shit,' he thought as he stepped into the pants legs, 'not only is this my size, these 501's are mine. Jeans that I sold on the Frat Loft site.' He pulled them up and buttoned the fly. "Whatdaya think?" he asked as he hooked his thumbs in the front pockets. 'Best not to mention that I recognize the jeans. This is a little freaky, though.'

"Henry, it is perfect." Ral walked up and lightly kissed Henry on the lips - more of a peck between two friends. "Now let's look at your new clothes and pack them."

For the first time, Henry was aware of the packages tucked into a corner of the room. Macy's and...yes, Saks. He walked over and carefully checked the contents of each shopping bag. Underwear, shirts, pants, shorts, a couple of pairs of shoes - more than enough to get started. 'I've hit the mother lode,' he thought as he put each item back into its original bag. Each time he looked at Ral, there was a sense of a proud father's expression on his face.

"Well, did my men do their job?" Ral asked when Henry stood up.

"This is more than great." Henry moved in and launched into a solid kiss - bordering on lustfulness - and added, "I thank you very much for being so kind. I'd like to give you a little gift as a token of our new relationship and my appreciation of everything that's happened."

"You have something for me?"

"I will. I noticed a shop not far from here when I drove here and...can we please just stop for a few minutes so I can buy it? It's very important to me." Henry turned on his playful sultry pout that he used in video shoots and pressed his forehead against Ral's.

"If it's that important, by all means. Now, let's get everything packed. I suggest you put the purchases in your new bags." Ral winked and pointed to another area of the bedroom.

The three black TUMI bags - two carry-ons and a sports duffel - were sitting in the opposite corner. Henry walked over and admired the latest symbol of his upward mobility. He mouthed a "thanks" and opened each bag. He removed the cardboard and paper and busily went about packing his new wardrobe.

"Guess I won't need the Nike bag any more," Henry said as he transferred the familiar meager contents - mostly dirty clothes and his toiletries - to the duffel.

"Leave whatever you don't need and our houseman will take care of everything after we leave. All you need to do is place the packed bags out in the hallway and they'll be handled from there."

"I'm finished with my stuff," Henry replied. "Can I help you with anything?"

"Not necessary." Ral walked up to Henry and held him tightly in a long, emotional hug. "You've made me a very happy man, Mr. Palma, and I sense we're going to have a marvelous time our new home."

"I like the 'our' in your description. I promise you many happy years together." Henry tilted his head and playfully nibbled at Ral's earlobe before tonguing his ear.

"I'll hold you to that promise, Seor. Now go ahead and take out your bags. I have a few last minute things to do and I'll meet you in the dining room."

"See ya in a few," Henry said as he grabbed the bags. 'Definitely a sweet deal,' he thought, 'and one I don't mind being a part of.'

Oleg opened his eyes, glanced first at Giorgio and then at the desert landscape. He scooted up in his seat and said, "How rude of me to doze off. Where are we?"

"Just passed the outlet mall," Giorgio said as a matter of fact.

"Sorry I zonked out. I think my body was telling me to refresh."

"No problem. You had a smile on your face the whole time and I didn't mind your hand resting on my crotch." Giorgio looked over to Oleg and grinned.

"I didn't snore, did I?" Oleg could launch into a real lumber saw if he was tired and he definitely didn't want to scare off his new boyfriend.

"A few sighs...but I figured you were just thinking of me in your dreams," Giorgio replied with a chuckle.

"A lawyer and a mind reader."

"That's why I win my cases. I have x-ray mind reading capabilities so I can tell what my competition is thinking." Giorgio flashed the turn signal and moved into the right lane.

"X-ray with a bullshit attachment - I'm impressed," Oleg said with a fake grimace. "Probably best I didn't practice law." He looked briefly ahead and saw that they were approaching the turn to Palm Springs.

"Oleg, I didn't know that you have a law degree. I suspect that we have several secrets about our past to share."

"Only good secrets, however."

It was a little after 7:15 p.m. as they turned off the 10 and onto the 111. Oleg had taken this route on hundreds of occasions and knew they would be in Palm Springs proper in ten or so minutes. Since it was early Saturday evening, the traffic was fairly light. When they passed the architecturally praised desert modernist Visitors Center, Oleg suddenly remembered he needed to pick up some additional supplies for their weekend.

"Would you mind if we stopped off at a shop for some wine? It's on Palm Canyon Drive on the way to the house."

"There's no rush...but I want to share in the costs," Giorgio replied. "This is part of the boyfriend thing that we need to get right. 50-50."

"I hear you." Oleg was pleased that they had taken this first step and wondered how many more petit challenges they'd meet before the long weekend was over.

They passed through another stop light, past Toucan's gay bar and the new DINK's restaurant. "That's an odd name for a restaurant," Giorgio said as he glanced at the sleek building on the corner. "Someone's name?"

"In this case it means, Double Income No Kids. Very appropriate in Palm Springs." Oleg wondered if this might describe them some day as they sped on. "Babe, you'll see a shop on the left in about six blocks. It's called Vin Bin."

Ahead was a small strip mall with several businesses including Vin Bin. They approached the corner and the parking lot seemed to be full. More than full - there were two vehicles that were double-parked in front of the stores. In addition to the wine shop, there was a popular sushi bar and an upscale deli. Oleg surveyed the situation and decided that they'd get jammed up in the lot.

"Here's what I suggest," Oleg said. "There's no room in the lot so why don't you park on the street by the fire hydrant and I'll run in. We can figure out what the damages are when we get home."

"As long as a dog doesn't confuse my Escape with a fire plug, I can do that." Giorgio rolled his eyes and navigated the small SUV around to a corner curb, clearly marked with red. "If the cops come by, I'll move it."

"Don't worry...Palm Springs' finest aren't too worried about guppy visitors parking illegally for a few minutes. I'll be right back." Oleg impulsively leaned over and kissed Giorgio on the cheek. 'That felt good,' he thought as he got out of the truck.

He walked up the driveway and was curious about the two vehicles double-parked in front of Vin Bin - a black Hummer and a gray Bentley coupe. There were people in each vehicle, although through the dark window tint, Oleg could only make out blurry images and the glow of a burning cigarette being stoked by the smoker. The California license plate on the Bentley was personalized, displaying the initials, COL HK, with the customized palm tree art motif. 'Must be some rich dude,' Oleg thought, 'who is a retired colonel.' Like most Californians, he would usually try to figure out the meaning of a special plate.

Inside the store, he nodded to Sam the shopkeeper, who momentarily looked up and nodded while ringing up the purchases for a woman. Oleg continued back to the well-visited chardonnay section - it was almost as if his footprints were invisibly engraved on the worn Formica floor. As he navigated through the case-stacked aisle, he almost absent-mindedly ran into another customer. He excused himself and barely looked up as a young guy in a clinging tank top passed by carrying a bottle of champagne. 'That guy is hot,' he thought as he momentarily looked behind him at the stud, 'in a let's fuck sort of way. But I've got someone for that now and...much more.' The stranger's firm buns, captured in the tight, worn denim, were a nice visual diversion but Oleg's mind was firmly fixed on the lawyer in his life. Defining the 'much more' with Giorgio was his number one mission.

Oleg passed the French selections and almost tripped over a stacked display of a Chilean cabernet sauvignon. He picked up a bottle of the Casillero del Diablo and decided to try it out. "Probably the closest I'll get to South America,' he thought as he moved on to the chardonnays.

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